‘Fraud mecca’ claims denied

Wednesday May 11, 2016 Written by Published in Local
F i n a n c i a l    S e r v i c e s    Development Authority chief executive Tamatoa Jonassen. 15042210 F i n a n c i a l S e r v i c e s Development Authority chief executive Tamatoa Jonassen. 15042210

The Cook Islands government has hit back at the statement from the anonymous leaker of the “Panama Papers,” who claims the country is a “financial fraud mecca.”

 

The leaker also claimed New Zealand Prime Minister John Key was “curiously quiet” about New Zealand’s role in enabling the Cook Islands to maintain its “fraud mecca” status.

Key had earlier this week refuted claims made by the document leaker, adding he had no responsibilities for tax jurisdiction in the Cook Islands.

Cook Islands Financial Services Development Authority chief executive Tamatoa Jonassen said in a statement that the Cook Islands government “stood firm” in its continued commitment towards fighting tax evasion, money laundering, and financing of terrorism.

He added the government strongly refuted comments made on May 6 attributed to the person who leaked the material that became known as the Panama Papers.

The Panama Papers are in fact 11.5 million leaked documents that detail financial and attorney-client information involving more than 214,488 offshore entities.

“The Cook Islands continues its involvement with the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) to facilitate the use of Cook Islands trusts and incorporation services for legitimate and legal reasons,” Jonassen said.

“The Cook Islands financial services industry has been a leader in trust legislation and professional services, and has grown in the past 30 years and outpaced many of its neighbours in the implementation of international standards.”

In 2009, Jonassen said, the Cook Islands had received a positive evaluation by the Asia Pacific Group on Money Laundering, the largest financial action task force-style regional body in the world.

The evaluation had put the Cook Islands in the top 20 per cent of the 165 nations assessed for implementing international regulatory standards.

Jonassen said in this evaluation, the Cook Islands ranked better than New Zealand.

“The Cook Islands also received positive evaluations in both peer reviews of the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes, the most recent of which was conducted in 2015.

“In October 2015, the Cook Islands committed to the Automatic Exchange of Information and is currently implementing the Common Reporting Standard which will be in full effect by 2018.

“The Cook Islands is expecting to undergo another evaluation in 2017 similar to that done in 2009 and it is anticipated that the Cook Islands will receive a similar positive assessment.”

In June last year, the Cook Islands was included on 30 EU countries’ blacklists for not doing enough to crack down on tax avoidance.

But this was later reduced to only eight EU member states’ national blacklists, according to a statement issued by the Cook Islands government in March this year.

Key said New Zealand did try to support the Cook Islands in improving its tax laws and the way it operated the system to ensure it had a better structure and operated with greater transparency.

He said they had sent officials to help, but the Cook Islands government ultimately made its own decisions.

Meanwhile former Cook Islands minister and opposition leader Wilkie Rasmussen told Radio New Zealand that the Panama Papers leaks did not damage the country’s reputation.

“I would say that maybe about 10 years ago the Cook Islands complied with all the restrictions that were placed upon countries like this one that were delving into that sort of industry,” Rasmussen said.

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